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Mini-Review: NBA 2K12

NBA 2K12I can tell you all about the chronology of Metroid or how Ratchet and Clank first met, but when it comes to sports games, I am woefully unprepared for conversation.  I've never been a sports guy outside of whimsical titles such as Mario Golf, so when a copy of NBA 2K12 for the Microsoft Xbox 360 (also available for the Sony PlayStation 3 and PC) from 2K Sports landed at my door, I knew I was terribly unprepared to review it with any level of expertise.  Fortunately, I knew who I could turn to for help: Brad Hilderbrand, my good friend and Power Button podcast co-host.  I leave you in his capable dribbling hands for this mini-review.  Brad?

Hey there loyal PTB readers! It’s Brad from the podcast, here to bring you a guest review of NBA 2K12. You see, 2K sent Matt a review copy of the game and since he doesn’t know the key from the charity stripe [A what? - Matt] he asked me if I’d be willing to tackle this one. Since I have a pretty fair grasp on the franchise and played a whole lot of last year’s game I told him I’d put this latest entry through its paces and report back with my findings. The verdict? 2K has done it again, and NBA 2K12 is their best basketball game yet. While there are still a few gameplay issues that need to be ironed out, the rest of the package is truly something to behold.

NBA 2K12The main draw of last year’s title was the Jordan Challenge, which allowed players to take control of the one and only Michael Jordan in some of his career’s biggest games. It was a treat to put His Airness through his paces, and with it 2K managed to tap into gamers’ nostalgia for a time before giant egos and thuggish play caused the league’s popularity to spiral downward.

This time around the stakes have been raised, as 2K12 introduces the NBA’s Greatest mode, which expands the roster of classic players to include the likes of Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon and Magic Johnson, among others. The mode drops players into the great rivalries of yesteryear, and winning each superstar’s respective game unlocks the two teams involved for further play.

Lest this be a simple expansion of the Jordan Challenge 2K has taken some major pains to set this mode apart. First off, the rules governing the game are reflective of their time in NBA history, so when playing with Dr J or Bill Russell, don’t be looking to shoot 3-pointers; they don’t exist yet. The presentation of the games also takes on a historic vibe, with courts and uniforms reflecting the times, as well as era-specific graphics and clock displays. It’s about as authentic as you can get without dusting off the VHS player and popping in old tapes of Laker/Celtic rivalry games.

Polishing things off is the stellar booth commentary, this year featuring the addition of Steve Kerr alongside Clark Kellogg and Greg Harlan. The trio don’t just call the action, they also add context by talking about the superstars of the era and the impact they had on the sport. Picking up these extra nuggets about the players make NBA’s Greatest all the more enjoyable, and the whole package stands as a love letter to historians orstudents of the game.

NBA 2K12Also massively overhauled this season is the My Player mode, which has been woefully neglected in the past. In years past the progression of created players was painstakingly slow, forcing you to toil in the Development League and then ride the pine for the better part of your rookie NBA season. This year the process has been streamlined, with a single game to strut your stuff before the draft and then immediate placement on a pro team. Furthermore, your player’s stats start off higher than before,so even though you’re unlikely to make a dramatic impact immediately at least you wont’ feel totally overwhelmed by the talent of those around you. At last, you get the sensation of being a rookie phenom rather than a late-round pick just trying to not get cut.

Though NBA 2K12 sports some major improvements over its predecessors, there are still enough negatives to be found that they become annoying. Once again, opponents are far too effective as shooters, consistently draining shots they have no right taking,let alone making. In one game I was matched up against the Milwaukee Bucks, who proceeded to literally shoot 100 percent from three-point range. Let me say that again.  Milwaukee Bucks. 100 percent. From three-point range. For those wondering if that’s a big deal, the BEST teams in the NBA shoot around 40 percent from that range over the span of an entire season, and the Bucks are not one of the NBA’s best teams. In normal game modes you can tinker with the sliders until you get a more realistic experience, but in My Player mode you must choose one of the preset difficulties, and all of them have locked sliders that sit far too high.

NBA 2K12As it happens, the AI all around is too aggressive, with computer-controlled defenders recording absurdly high totals for blocks and steals, while also sticking to all but the best ball-handlers like glue. 2K insists on sticking with the overly complex dribble moves that turn a simple drive to the basket into hardcore finger gymnastics, but I’d be okay with it if the moves actually helped me free myself from a defender and take a good shot.  Most of the time trying to string together a series of fancy moves results in players either dribbling the ball off their foot or seeing their defender continue to stand directly in the path to the basket. There’s still far too much work involved for very little reward. The one bright spot is that post-up moves have been simplified, so players are at least a bit more likely to score if they start with their backs to the basket. Unfortunately, this is also true for the opposing AI, and all you need to do is see the above paragraph to understand why that can be a problem.

Teammates aren’t much better, many times opting for bad shots or refusing to switch off defensive mismatches. The teammate AI has been improved over the years, but there are still far too many instances of forwards and centers trying to take on point guardswhile our poor 6 foot 5 guard is being banged around under the basket by a player over 7 feet tall. Since the opponents can obviously see this is a mismatch it would stand to reason teammates would as well, yet they never seem to rotate or help unless you force them.

NBA 2K12Even though the NBA 2K series hasn’t quite solved all its gameplay issues, it’s somuch fun that imperfections are easy to forgive. NBA’s Greatest mode is an extremely entertaining addition, particularly for those who miss old-school basketball. My Player is also much improved, and the mode can easily suck away hours of your time. One last warning to potential buyers though, until the NBA lockout is lifted, no rookies will appear in the game, so it may be months until you get your chance to take control of Jimmer or Kemba Walker. Ultimately, while NBA 2K12 may not replace real basketball, it’s still enjoyable enough to keep you entertained until the millionaires and billionaires agree on who’s going to win the money fight.